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Making the Retail Link

June 3, 2008
by Mark Hagland
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On Sunday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press ran an interesting story about physician groups pushing back against the surge of retail clinics in their metro area. Richard Moody, M.D., a family physician with Chattanooga Family Practice Associates, was quoted as saying of the retail clinic phenomenon, “Some of it is a McDonald’s-ization of medicine.”

But Dr. Moody and his colleagues aren’t simply whining and blockading. They have created their own “quick clinic” staffed by physician assistants who treat walk-in patients with coughs, colds, and other simple ailments, Dr. Moody told the Times Free Press. What’s more, he added, the practice even sends letters to patients who have visited retail health clinics, such as CVS’s MinuteClinics, to advise them of the new option at Chattanooga Family Practice Association.

Hospital executives are finding themselves in rather complicated situations with regard to retail clinics of late. Some hospitals themselves are setting up these clinics, in response to demand from consumers for more immediate and convenient care for minor ailments. In some cases, they are doing so in concert with local affiliated physicians, either doctors in independent private practices, or doctors in hospital-owned practices. Of course, the healthcare politics of this quickly becomes very complex.

For CIOs, something should be immediately apparent: however hospital and health system senior executives might want to define “success” in the “retail clinic war,” as it’s sometimes been called, IT facilitation is going to play a role, perhaps even a significant one. Whether the hospitals and health systems are directly setting up their own retail clinics, or creating them in concert with physician groups, to be truly successful, they’re going to want to outfit those clinics with EMR connectivity, electronic prescribing capability, and the like. Retail clinics may need to be “quick,” but they also need to be clinically sound and responsible.

And though there have already been some failures and closing of retail clinics (particularly of clinics created and operated by the retail store chains themselves—healthcare simply isn’t at the core of their corporate operating skill sets, after all), there is doubtless some real business and service opportunity for hospitals and health systems in this emerging sector.

And CIOs can be heroes in yet another area of activity, by helping their fellow c-suite executives to strategize around retail clinic ventures, and then by following through and executing well on the ground, should the executive team determine that the opportunity is worth pursuing in this area. Most importantly, this is yet another example pointing to the need to think and work proactively, if hospitals and health systems don’t want to end up reacting to yet another emerging industry trend.

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